Forbidden Whispers

This is my entry for our annual IchiRuki Halloween Contest at BleachAsylum. The theme was to have Rukia as a witch, who meets Ichigo. A thousand hugs and love to my beta, Ava, for putting up with my insane demands, and for being there with me as I wrote this.

To those who have me down as favorites, a thousand apologies to you since you probably received two notifications for different titles, but the same story. I changed the name, yet for some reason, it won't delete the older file. ' So please leave all comments on this page, if possible. Thanks!

I hope you enjoy.


The young man tightened his hold on his rifle as the remaining group began to disperse among the trees. The billowing fog made it almost impossible to see past a few feet, and the forest held an eerie silence that made the rest of the men more alert to their surroundings.

"Che," the man murmured while taking a few more steps towards a large thicket that led to the deeper part of the woods. Though that part was supposedly off limits, the best hunt was said to be there. Not many dared venture that path, but Kurosaki Ichigo was perhaps the most brash and reckless of all the men his age. It was the night of the hunt for all men coming of age in his village, and the bigger the catch, the more prestige one would get.

As he walked closer towards the entrance, his ears perked at the sound of his name being called. He turned to find his friend standing near him, a look of irritation on his features as he glared at Ichigo. "What do you think you are doing?"

Ichigo shrugged slightly, as he used his gun to push past a few of the branches blocking his path. "What does it look like I'm doing, Ishida?" He could feel Ishida's eyes practically burning a hole through his head as he turned around after rolling his eyes. Sure enough, Ishida was giving him a patronizing look as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. "It looks to me as if you are determined to get not only yourself, but everyone else, killed, Kurosaki."

Ichigo ignored the comment and turned back to pulling the branches out of the way, making a clear path through the thicket and into the oncoming darkness. "I didn't ask any of you to follow me. If I want to be killed, that's my choice. You stay here and catch the small rabbits that hop on by."

He smirked at the curse that escaped his friend's mouth as he ventured without a second glance back. He could tell from the sudden silence that surrounded him that Ishida had refused to follow him. He didn't blame him though. They stories of what lay ahead were ones that had been told in folklores by the elders of his village since he was a little boy.

But it was strange how the stories, which were meant to frighten the children into never going into these parts of the woods, actually peaked Ichigo's curiosity even more. The stories of the creatures that lived within these parts, the danger that lurked within the shadows of every tree, made Ichigo yearn more to see it for himself.

With each passing step, he seemed to immerse himself more into the darkness that enveloped the woods. The moon's glow was slightly blocked by the long intertwining branches of the dead trees and the ashen colored clouds. He wasn't certain if he was just being paranoid, but a sense of being watched washed over him. The woods had grown too quiet anyways, and he quickly tightened his hold on his gun.

The slight crunching of leaves turned his attention suddenly to his right. He fell silent as he listened for the sound, but it had grown quiet once more. He hesitated moving, knowing that any sudden movement would give him away if anything was there. He drew his rifle closer to him when he heard the faint crunching of leaves again, followed by a voice. It was haunting, yet so beautiful as it filled the silence of the woods. He could tell straight away that it was a maiden, but how she had gotten here was beyond his reasoning. Her voice seemed to stir something inside of him. She was singing with words he could not easily discern. He approached the area to where he could hear her voice coming from. He peered through the trees that were covering a portion of the woods to his right and froze.

There in the center of a small opening was a very tiny figure, clad completely in a black cloak. She was still humming lightly as she picked from various plants that were growing there. She looked like a mere child, and he wondered who she was by the eerie aura she seemed to emit. As she bent down to pick a mushroom from the ground, he noticed her skin was almost milky white and very delicate. Ichigo took a step forward, crushing the few leaves below his foot. The sound stopped her immediately as she stood frozen. Ichigo cursed inwardly as she slowly moved her hands back to her side and got up so quickly that he reeled back a few steps in surprise. His breathing became more rapid as he felt the pounding of his heart grow more rapid.

The figure's head inclined just slightly before turning away from Ichigo's direction, and in a blink of an eye, disappeared into the darkness. Ichigo cursed and hesitated a minute before running after her. He knew the danger that he was putting himself in, but his feet pursued her every step as she ran through the woods with ease. He, however, found himself tumbling over the roots of the trees that were sticking out of the uneven pavements. Ichigo turned the corner, letting out a startled yelp as he suddenly lost balance and collided with the cold ground. He breathed slowly, trying to slow down his heartbeat and the searing pain that had flooded his body from the impact.

He saw a fleeting image of her run through the trees in front of him. Her presence began to fade until the woods were silent once more. Ichigo pulled himself up slightly and noticed a shining object a few feet from him. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his knees, he walked over to the glowing object. Its light began to fade as he approached and he bent down to see that it was a small pendant. He scowled lightly before placing it in his palm. It was a small, yet very intricate and beautiful pendant. There were strange designs and symbols carved into a clear crystal, and in between was a shape of a moon. He held it by its chain, allowing the moon's light to reflect off it. He looked up and saw that dawn was approaching fast and cursed a bit before placing the pendant into his pocket and grabbing his rifle from where he dropped it. He looked once more back to where the figure had disappeared, but found nothing.

x.X.x

Isshin sighed as he watched his son limping out of the woods, empty handed. "That's my son..." he muttered, shaking his head. The scowl on Ichigo's face grew even more when there was a sound of snickering coming from behind. He turned to see several of the men he had accompanied also coming, with several large prizes to boast about from their hunting. He felt someone walk by his side and turned to see Ishida.

"No rabbits, Kurosaki?" he muttered with a slight grin playing across his face before he walked ahead. Ichigo was about to retort before he realized that he was just too tired, sleepy, annoyed, and in extreme pain to care right now at the looks he was receiving. He passed his family without a word and headed up to his room, falling on his bed immediately. He took several deep breaths, reveling in the warmth and comfort of his sheets before pulling out the pendant. The glow it had been emitting in the forest had stopped, and Ichigo made a mental note to find out more about it...after a very long sleep.

x.X.x

"Rangiku-san, don't you think you added a bit too much newt eyeballs to that?" the young woman eyed the potion wearily as it began to turn a thick murky green color.
Rangiku turned towards her friends and shook her hand dismissively. "Nonsense, Hinamori. Are you implying that I can't make a simple healing potion?"

Hinamori gulped and shook her head. "Of course not, Rangiku-san," she replied meekly and watched helplessly as Rangiku added a few more into the already foul smelling concoction. The sudden creak of the door turned their attention to the figure that entered. The tiny woman removed her black cloak wearily and walked inside, placing the basket in her hand onto the table. She stopped abruptly, her nose crinkling at the smell that had now filled the small cottage.

"What are you two doing," she added as she covered her nose.

Hinamori watched helplessly as Rangiku turned to the newcomer with a wide grin. "Oh Rukia-san, you are back! We just received word that Toshiro wasn't feeling well, so we decided to make him some potion to heal what ails him."

Rukia raised her brow skeptically as she approached the cauldron. "Heal him or make him worse," she muttered to herself as the green mixture began to boil. She quickly pulled herself away and shook her head. She made a mental note to take some potion for him, since it was well know in their world that any potion from Rangiku was best left alone. She knew better then to argue with her friend on the subject. Rukia resigned herself to the bed while Hinamori walked over to the basket. She noticed Hinamori frown slightly as she continued to search through the basket.

"Rukia-chan, didn't you get the dry roots?"

Rukia sighed as she pulled herself from the bed. "No, I'm sorry. I was just about to get some when I realized someone was watching me. Someone...who wasn't of our kind."

Hinamori looked shocked, but Rukia just shrugged. "It was nothing, really. I managed to get away and that is all that should matter." She sighed wearily and grabbed the velvet ribbon on her table next to her bed, wrapping it gently around her head. A small gasp made her look up and saw Hinamori watching her closely.

"Rukia-chan...your pendant?"

Rukia blinked and felt her neck, her eyes widening when she realized there was nothing. She quickly got up, all thoughts of weariness gone as she began running through the room in search of it.

"Calm down, Rukia-san," Rangiku said gently as Rukia almost toppled the cauldron in search of every nook and cranny of the cottage. Rukia could feel her breathing become more difficult as she looked around frantically. She felt a chill in her spine at the realization that the pendant had not fallen anywhere in the cottage. She was most certain she had it when she had gone to collect the necessary ingredients. Which only meant...

"Rukia-chan, wait!"

But Rukia had already run outside, ignoring her friend's calls.

She stopped when she had reached the place where she first sensed the man's presence.

She collapsed at the sudden weight she felt in her legs as she continued to feel her neck. "I don't sense it anywhere nearby..." she whispered as Hinamori put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Rukia turned to her, her face full of fear at the realization that perhaps the pendant was taken. "You don't think that whoever it was might have..."

Hinamori watched her with concern as Rangiku passed them, throwing some powder she kept in a small pouch at the tree that the stranger was supposedly standing behind. She raised her brow and sighed as the powder left a light blue residue on the tree. "It seems it was a human..." she muttered as she turned around to look at Rukia. Rukia groaned as she buried her face in her hand.

The silence that ensued was quickly replaced by Hinamori's meek voice. "What are we going to do then?"

x.X.x.

Ichigo walked down the street, ignoring the resumed snickers that he could hear from several of the men that had accompanied him last night. He gritted his teeth, knowing he had more pressing matters to attend to. He would deal with them later.

"Kurosaki-kun?"

He stopped and turned to see a young woman standing nervously behind him. She was looking downcast, her hands folded lightly as her brown hair cascaded down her shoulders. Her cheeks were a bright red as she smiled softly.

"Aye, Inoue, what is it?"

She looked up to see his annoyed expression, and knew it was due to the laughing of the men behind them. Ichigo was satisfied though to see Ishida had stopped laughing, and watching them very closely.

She shuffled her feet nervously and looked up at him. "I'm sorry for what happened last night. Yuzu told me this morning."
Ichigo shrugged, annoyed that his sister was going around telling everyone what had happened. "It's nothing, Inoue. I got a bit distracted and lost track of time…"

Anyways, I better get going. I'll see you around, Inoue."

With that, he turned, not noticing the pair of eyes that followed his retreating form longingly.

He walked a bit further down the cobblestone pathway until he reached a small, decayed building standing alone by the edge of town. He opened the door quietly as the small tinkle of the door bell filled the room. He frowned as he looked around, finding not a soul in sight. Shelves of books filled the walls, leaving only some space for the windows. The curtains were still drawn, allowing only a minimal amount of light inside. A strange aroma filled every corner of the dimly lit room.

"Can I help you?"

Ichigo turned in surprise to find a little girl staring at him curiously. Her eyes flickered to a small sign that was put on the only window where the curtains were not drawn. "The store is closed, sir. Please come back at another time."

Ichigo scratched his head and craned his neck to look around the rest of the room. "I'm not here to buy anything," he explained. "Is Urahara-san here?"

He heard a slight movement coming from the backroom, and turned to find a man coming out with a stack of boxes. "Ururu, would you please put the books in these boxes at their proper shelve?"

The little girl nodded and walked over to the man. He handed her one of the boxes and turned to Ichigo. "Oh! Kurosaki-san! What a pleasant surprise to see you so early in the morning. To what do I owe this honor?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes and took off the pendant from his neck. "I need your help, Urahara. I need to know what this is. It has some really strange markings on it, and the only person who would probably know about these things would be you."

"Oh?" Urahara watched curiously as Ichigo approached him and placed the small jewelry in his hands. For a moment, Urahara stared at it with a slightly surprised look, covered ever so slightly by the small fan in his hands. His eyes then turned upwards to Ichigo with a look of suspicion. "Where, may I ask, did you find this?"

Ichigo looked nervously at the man, not liking the look he was being given. "Er, just outside town. I found it while I was hunting. Why?"

Urahara surveyed him for a minute more before turning his attention back to pendant. "Is that so? Interesting, indeed."

Ichigo could feel his patience growing thin as he waited for the man to tell him what it was. But Urahara continued to examine it quietly, his expression unreadable. Then the pendant was placed back into Ichigo's hand, and Urahara turned away, grabbing one of the boxes that Ururu had not taken. "Well, Kurosaki-san, as they saying goes, curiosity killed the cat." He chuckled darkly and turned his head towards Ichigo, his eyes hidden behind his messy hair and hat. "Wherever you found it, take it back. It does not belong here."

With that, Urahara walked to one of the shelves, and began placing the books into the empty sections. Ichigo looked curiously at the pendant. It was obvious that Urahara knew what it was. But why was he not telling Ichigo? "Urahara-san..." he began, before he was cut off by the stern look that rarely ever appeared on Urahara's face.

"Kurosaki-san, I'm only saying this for your benefit, as well as the town. You would do well to be rid of that."

Ichigo sighed in frustration. "But it is just a piece of jewelry! What could possibly be so dangerous about it that it couldn't stay here?"

Urahara shook his head, and motioned to Ururu. The little girl ran up to him, and he whispered a few words to her. She nodded, and ran off to the back storage. She arrived nearly ten minutes later, with a large, moldy book in her hands. She handed it to Ichigo, who looked up to see Urahara watching him with interest.

He flipped through a few of the pages, and found them filled with strange symbols and writing that he could not understand. However, his eyes widened when one of the pages in the center held a very familiar drawing. Several symbols were scribbled on it, and it took Ichigo a moment to register that they were the same that were engraved in the stone of the pendant. "What is this, Urahara-san?" he asked quietly, looking through several more pages filled with writing.

"Kurosaki-san…what you have here, has been forbidden for hundreds of years now. Do you remember the stories I used to tell you and the others when you were children? About the evil creatures that used to terrorize our village long ago?"

Ichigo nodded as he continued to peruse through the pages at the various drawings. "I do, but vaguely. We used to learn of the folklores of witches and warlocks that had taken over," he snorted as he shook his head.

"It was all true, Kurosaki-san..."

Ichigo turned his head towards Urahara in disbelief. "What are you talking about? Those stories were just told so that no children would go running off into the woods."

Urahara sighed and shook his head. "That is not the only reason, Kurosaki-san. The only reason that not many know was because the truth of what happened all those years back became forbidden to speak of. I was able to preserve the history behind our town through this journal. No one even knows of its existence...and no one ever should..." he emphasized, to which Ichigo turned his head towards him and grinned. "Don't worry, I shall never say a word about this to anyone. So now can you tell me what the big secret is?"

Urahara grinned and nodded. "Well, the symbol that you see here and on the pendant, is the mark of a group of women who used to live in this town many years ago. They were...different. They preferred to keep themselves secluded from the rest of the townspeople. However, even though they were so different and sometimes concerned the people, they were useful as healers. No one knew how, but they were able to take care of even the worst of ailments. But with this, they brought fear since no one could understand just what they were..."

He flipped through some pages, and Ichigo frowned slightly at a sketch of what seemed to be an execution. He heard Urahara sigh. "Some...did not wish for their existence. They waited, in hopes that one day they would get a reason to get rid of them. And the day came. Some of the children began disappearing in the middle of the night, with no traces of any foul play, only to be found dead in the woods days later. Some villagers took this chance to accuse these women of being witches, saying they were the ones who lured the children away with their dark magic. Since everyone was so afraid, they believed them. An order was out to execute any who showed signs of using magic. Some of the women managed to escape, some weren't so fortunate..."

Urahara closed the book and looked at Ichigo. "Kurosaki-san, this pendant...probably belongs to one of those people that escaped. If so, it is very dangerous to have this pendant here, in case they come looking for it. You must take it back."

Ichigo looked down at the small pendant in his hands. Everything that Urahara had said to him just seemed like a dream. The raucous outside startled him as looked at the window, where several people were passing by.

He heard a slight cough from behind and turned to see Urahara putting books back again into the shelves." Now if you will excuse me, Kurosaki-san, there is much work needed to be done here before the shop opens..."

Ichigo nodded, knowing he was not going to get any other information. He sighed in resignation and walked out of the shop.

x.X.x

"I can't believe we are doing this, you guys," Hinamori squeaked as they edged near the woods by the village.

She dug her nails into Rukia's arm, who led out a light gasp before pulling her arm away. "We have no choice! I need to get that pendant back before anyone figures out I lost it in the first place. Besides, we told you that you could stay back if you didn't want to come."

Hinamori pouted slightly and crossed her arms. "Well, I wasn't going to let you two go alone. It's dangerous! If the elders ever found out..." She bit her lip as she nervously looked around.

Rangiku, who had been making sure the coast was clear, motioned for the two to follow her. "Look, Hinamori-san, no one knows what we are up to, and no one will so long as neither of us utter a word about this, ok?"

Hinamori nodded hesitantly, but it was obvious she was very skeptical that they would make it out alive. If any of the humans got wind of the fact that they were witches, they were as good as dead. Even if they were to escape, if the elders were to find out that they had actually gone into the village, their fate would have been the same.

The village was brimming with people, as a festival seemed to be going on. There were several booths all over, with merchants from various different places across the lands and the residents seeking out goods they could use. Children ran merrily through the streets and played games as music played loudly in the distance. Rukia clutched onto her cloak more tightly as she and Hinamori followed Rangiku through the jostling crowds. She too shared Hinamori's sentiments, but it was no time for her to also get scared. It was her fault that they were stuck in this predicament, and she wanted nothing else but for her friends to get out of this unharmed.

The three searched the various people around them, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack. They could barely see anything with the large crowd that had gathered that day, let alone just one individual who might have had her pendant.

Rukia gritted her teeth as she looked around.

Of all the days for there to be so many people.

She hated being so short. She could barely see anything beyond Rangiku's tall frame, and by the time she realized someone was walking too close to her, it was too late. She felt herself losing her balance as she bumped hard into someone who was walking the other way, nearly knocking her to the dirty, hard ground. She screamed in frustration. "Why don't you watch where you are-"

She stared at the most brilliant amber eyes she had ever seen. He was of a tall stature, with the most unusual mop of orange hair she had ever seen. He had very handsome features, and he looked no more then a year or so older then her. The young man looked at her with such intensity that her eyes lowered slightly from his stare. Her breath stopped when she noticed the glow of her pendant that was supposed to be hidden around his neck. Her eyes lingered there for a moment before returning his stare.

The man looked at her suspiciously before she pulled herself away from his hold. A slight cocky grin appeared on his face as she muttered something and tried to move out of his way. "You know, children shouldn't be wondering around here on their own. Where are your parents anyways?"

Rukia's eyes narrowed at him as she crossed her arms defensively. "Excuse me? Who are you calling a child?!"

Ichigo stood in front of her to emphasize his height compared to her, putting his hand on top of her head. "Well, the only one who looks like one, apparently," he mused as she glared at him. She was inches from her pouch when a hand grabbed her wrist and she whipped around to see Rangiku standing there. She smiled cheerily and pulled Rukia to her side, who continued to glare at the arrogant man. "Oh, I apologize, good sir, I somehow lost my friend here through the crowd. She can be such a handful sometimes…"

Rukia turned her head towards Rangiku with a dark look that made Rangiku smirk more.

Ichigo's attention now turned to the elder woman, who looked far more jovial then her petite friend. "I noticed. It's no trouble at all. But I do not believe you are from this town, are you?"

Rangiku shook her head. "No sir, we are from the neighboring village. We learned you were having a festival and thought-ouch!" She turned to see Rukia, who had pinched her and was trying to pull away.

The man tilted his head slightly to the right, amused at the fuming petite woman in front of him. She whipped around, grabbed Rangiku's hand, and pulled her through the crowd, arguing. He chuckled lightly as he watched, feeling slightly guilty over annoying her in such a manner. But he just couldn't help it, and he smiled more when she shot him one more glare over her shoulders.

Her short black hair fell lazily to her shoulders, mussed slightly from the near fall she was about to take. She was a petite maiden, almost the same height as the children of the village.

But her beauty begged to differ. Her face was aged to perfection, and Ichigo could have guessed she was no more then eighteen herself. Yet it was her eyes that had captivated him the most. Her violet eyes shimmered with the sun's ray, and he saw such depth in them for the short amount of time he had stared into them. He looked down and found his pendant was glowing once more, yet the light slowly began to diminish with every moment. Ichigo furrowed his brow at this, wondering what it meant. He looked up, and wondered if a certain maiden had anything to do with it. After all, it was only after she met him that the pendant began reacting again.

x.X.x

"The insufferable…no wonder our kind hates humans so much," she yelled in frustration as her two friends stared. Hinamori smiled sympathetically as she put her hand on Rukia's shoulder. "Well let's just forget him and search for your pendant…"

Rukia pouted and crossed her arm. "We can't…he has the pendant…"

Hinamori's eyes widened as Rangiku began laughing. "Are you sure?"

Rukia nodded while turning in the direction she had last seen him. It didn't help matters that Rangiku continued to laugh. "Well, let's just turn him into a toad and get it back. He would make a lovely stew, though he is quite a treat to look at just as…pity…" she grinned as the other two rolled their eyes.

x.X.x

Ichigo walked through the empty streets towards his house, passing only a few remaining people who had decided to have one too many drinks, and were now merrily singing as they walked through the town. His family had already gone home, for which he was glad. His thoughts were completely elsewhere.

He had been watching her ever since she ran off with her friends, and his suspicion was confirmed. The moment he would get close to her, the pendant began to glow dimly. He wanted to talk to her so many times, but the raucous crowd made it nearly impossible for him to even get near her, let alone speak to her. The crowd seemed to get thicker as they edged closer to the middle of Karakura Town, and by the time they entered the square, Ichigo had lost the trail of the three friends.

The crowds had lessened as the day went by, and now the moon shone brightly overhead as residents went back to their homes after an exhausting day.

Ichigo stopped suddenly and turned his head slightly to the right when he heard a soft crunching noise behind him. His eyes narrowed as his pendant glowed dimly, but there was no one in sight. He quirked his eyebrow before turning and walked over to his house, taking one last look before closing the door.

Hinamori stuck her head out from the edge of a small building. "You don't think he is suspicious, do you?"

Rangiku snorted and shook her head. "Maybe if you hadn't stepped on those dead leaves, he might not have."

Hinamori turned scarlet as Rukia sighed. "We shall just wait a moment here until he is asleep. If anything, just put some sort of spell on him if he is awake."

The two nodded and waited for nearly an hour before leaving their hiding spot. Hinamori turned to see Rukia looking downwards in sadness as she rubbed her hands softly. "Your powers are still weakening?" she asked quietly, and Rukia nodded.

"I need to get that pendant back, Hinamori-chan." Rukia whispered. Her friend nodded as they approached the house. Rangiku pulled out a wand from her pouch and aimed it at the small door. She whispered a few incantations until a soft click of the door unlocking was heard. The three slowly crept into the house, allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness before moving more freely around the small rooms. They made their way up the stairs, trying to keep the sound as low as possible, which was proving to be difficult under the aged wood that continued to creak with their every step.

As they reached the top of the stairs, they split to search through the rooms. Rukia passed the first room, which had two very small beds. Both were occupied by two little girls who were sleeping peacefully. She could not sense her pendant anywhere, so moved onto the next room. It was slightly larger, and was occupied by just one person. She held her breath when she felt the tug of her pendant coming from near the bed.

She tiptoed towards the bed, making certain not to cause too much noise to wake up the young man who was sleeping. She stopped abruptly right next to him, cursing lightly when she saw the thin silver chain of her pendant around his neck. Her powers had already weakened to the point that she could not use a simple spell to get the pendant off of him. Rukia lifted one of her legs onto the bed, stopping immediately when he moved slightly. She held her breath until she was sure he was sleeping again, and moved her entire tiny form onto the bed. Leaning forward, her delicate fingers just barely touched his skin as she tried to open the clasp of the necklace from behind his neck.

It was at that time that she noticed just how close her face was near his. She blushed slightly as her eyes slowly shifted to see him more carefully. When she had met him earlier that day, he seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. But now as he slept, and the moon's ray filtered onto his face, she noticed he had some very handsome features. It also didn't help matters that the scent of an ancient, inviting spice that seemed to exude from him was almost intoxicating. She swallowed, wanting to slap herself for letting her thoughts stray so much for a human, and resumed her attempt at getting the pendant off. Rukia had almost gotten the clasp open, when she stopped immediately at the hot breath that had touched her cheek.

"What do you think you are doing?"

Her lavender eyes shifted slightly to the right to meet the intense gaze of his amber eyes that were staring straight at her. She quickly disentangled herself, jumping off the bed and walking backwards as he watched her with narrowed eyes. She pulled out her wand as he got up cautiously, not letting his eyes stray from her. Her breathing was still heavy from the shock of seeing him awake. His brow raised slightly. "What are you doing here?" he repeated more firmly.

Rukia blinked a few times before she found her voice again. "Give me back my pendant," she said quietly, her wand aimed squarely at him.

He continued to watch her with curiosity, finally shaking his head and holding firm the pendant in his hands. "Not until you tell me who you are."

Her ears strained for any noise that could tell her that her friends were coming, but there was silence. She looked into his eyes, and knew that he was aware that she was trembling still. He made no movement, other then to continue watching her. "Please give me back my pendant," she repeated, her voice slightly shaking this time as she prayed her friends would get here. His face seemed to soften this time, and he undid the clasp of the chain lightly. She sighed in relief when he took it off and put it into his palm. He offered it to her in silence, and she hesitated for a brief moment. They stared intently at one another, Rukia trying to discern whether this was some sort of trick.

She took a few awkward steps forward, and found he made no movement. Her wand still in her hands as she closed the little distance that remained and made a grab for her pendant...only to stop when his free hand gently took a hold of her wrist. She gasped softly, trying to free herself from his hold, but he kept a firm grip of her hand. He looked straight into her eyes, and there was just something about them, that caused the fear that Rukia had before to melt away. Behind those eyes, she sensed such warmth and kindness, not the cold and merciless feeling that was told humans would show to her kind.

"Who are you?" he asked gently. Rukia opened her mouth, but was unable to find the right words to answer his question.

When she remained silent, he sighed and slowly released his hold on her. Rukia looked at him suspiciously as she pulled her hand away with her pendant, quickly placing it around her neck. She sighed in relief as she felt her powers slowly seeping through her at the touch of the cold crystal against her skin.

The attention was suddenly turned to the door creaking open, and two heads appearing. Hinamori and Rangiku blinked in shock at seeing Ichigo awake and quickly aimed their wands at him when Rukia raised her hand to stop them. "It is not needed," she said quietly. The two watched her in confusion as she showed them the pendant around her neck. "We got what we came for. Let us get out of here before anyone else wakes."

She walked over to them as Ichigo just stared at their retreating form. "Hey!" he said angrily. "You never told me who you were!"

Rukia's eyes turned towards him and surveyed him with slight annoyance. "You do not need to know. I thank you for giving back my pendant, but this shall be the last time we meet. Forget whatever you saw, or we shall not be so merciful next time."

Ichigo was about to retort when with just a blink of an eye, the three mysterious figures disappeared.

He cursed inwardly and looked out the window, catching a very small glimpse of three figures running into the woods. He sighed before turning back to his bed, carefully lifting the pillow to reveal a very tiny shard of a white jewel...a tiny shard of her pendant that he had broken off. In case.

x.X.x

Rukia finally took a deep breath when Rangiku shut the door. She collapsed on the bed, clutching onto her pendant for dear life as she slowly regained her powers. Hinamori took off her cloak as she watched Rukia with concern. "How are you doing, Rukia-chan?"

Rukia gave her an assuring smile. "Much better, Hinamori, now that I have my pendant ba-"

The words did not finish when she realized that they were not alone.

Her eyes widened at the fourth figure standing in the dark corner, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, and his lips pursed from trying to keep his anger at bay.

Hinamori and Rangiku both turned to see what had shocked Rukia, and cringed. Rangiku moved forward, a fake smile plastering on her face immediately. "Renji-kun, what a pleasant surprise!"

Rangiku and Hinamori looked at one another before turning to Rukia. It seemed the shock that was on her face in the beginning was now replaced with a look of anger as well. She narrowed her eyes, matching the same anger as the man before her.

"May I ask why you entered my house without my permission?" she growled, as both Hinamori and Rangiku moved back a little.

The man's eyes never left Rukia's, his breathing slowly calming. "I need to speak to Rukia alone."

Rangiku coughed and clapped her hands together. "Alright then. We should go see Toushiro anyways. The poor boy seems to have a stomach ache since last night after we dropped off the potion, so we must go brew some more for his newest ailment!"

Hinamori groaned as she was dragged out of the cottage helplessly.

As soon as the door closed, Rukia jumped off her bed. "Now answer me!"

Renji glared at her. "What else did you expect me to do?! You had everyone worried since yesterday, so I came to see you today. You weren't even home and I didn't sense you anywhere around here. I wanted to make sure you were ok!"

Rukia's eyes widened as he looked away, his face flushed. A sense of guilt was beginning to take over as she mumbled something, looking downcast herself. "Sorry..." she muttered.

He turned to her, and sighed. "Will you tell me then why you were in the human's town?"

Rukia looked up in shock as he watched her closely. "What?! How did you-"

Renji cut her off with a frustrated sigh. "I just knew, alright? We have been friends since we were children, Rukia. Nothing you do really stays hidden from me."

Rukia snorted and raised her brow. "Is that so? Then you should also know just why I was there then."

"Rukia..." His voice, while trying to maintain a calm exterior, was shaking slightly with anger.

Rukia shrugged and walked over to the table. "Look, Renji, everything I do, you do not need to know. I'm not a child anymore that needs to constantly have you on my back. I know you do it because you care," she added, noting him tensing at her words. "You just need to trust me, okay? Please?" she added softly, feeling guilty at the sadness she saw in his eyes.

He nodded, before turning away from her. "So be it. All I ask, Rukia, is to please take care of yourself. If anything happened to you..."

"Nothing will happen to me," she said quietly as he turned to her. She shook slightly when he walked to her, his hand gently cupping her cheek. Her breath stilled as she felt his head descending, and turned her face away. "I...can't," she whispered. She did not look into his eyes, but knew he had been hurt. "I know..." he whispered. His hand left her cheek, and without another look towards her, opened the door and left.

Rukia looked sadly at the door. 'I'm so sorry, Renji.'

x.X.x

Ichigo fidgeted in his chair, his breakfast sitting on the table, untouched. He just couldn't get the woman out of his head. He could still sense the feeling of her soft skin when it had brushed against him. He could still see her large, shimmering violet eyes turning to his when she found him awake. The sweet smell of lavender that surrounded her still overpowered every one of his senses. There was something different about her, something that made it hard for him to forget her. He fingered the small shard in his hands, wondering whether what he was about to do would end up killing him.

The day passed too slowly for his taste. He had to endure his friend's useless ramblings, and the unneeded attention of several of the young maidens. He finally found solitude in his room, as he made up his mind on what he was about to do. Evening finally came as he snuck out of his house, and headed for the woods.

x.X.x

Rukia walked through the woods quietly, her thoughts completely immersed by the young man she had met. She shuddered at the thought that he knew what she was, and that he could have told anyone by now about her. After all, from all of the stories she had heard, her kind had always been feared and killed for being what they were.

And yet, another part of her considered the chance that he had not said anything. Although he had angered her when they first met, his interactions with her later were so different. He seemed curious, and went out of his way to try and talk to her, even when she had threatened him with her wand. Either he really wasn't afraid or he was just very stupid. She looked up and found that she had already arrived at her destination.

The moon shone so brightly here. The woods that she was so used to was always covered with decayed trees and the branches would always cover the shimmering stars and the bright lit moonlight. But here, at the edge of a large lake that stood opposite of the woods, it was a whole different world. There were several willow trees on the other side, their long branches dancing with the light flicker of the wind. The stars blanketed the black skies, with the moon adding a glow that illuminated the lake. She sighed in contentment, feeling the first signs of peace within her after so many days. The silence that filled the night sky soothed all of her worries, and allowed the wind to gently caress her skin.

Her eyes opened suddenly at the sound of footsteps.

She stilled, listening intently for where the source of those footsteps. She slowly stood when the uneasy feeling of her was confirmed when whoever it was drew near. She quickly ran to a large willow tree nearby and jumped onto the branch, staring at the spot where she could hear the sound coming from.

Her mouth opened, her eyes widened when she saw a figure approach...a figure, with a big mop of orange hair; one that Rukia was sure no one else but that one man would ever have. She stilled as he approached the edge of the lake hesitantly and stopped.

"Hello? Are you here?" he asked.

Rukia stayed rooted in her spot, shock causing her to become completely immobile. He knew where she was?

He scratched his head and looked around. "Er, I know it is kind of odd to see me here. I…I'm not sure why I came either."

He sighed when he got no response. "I just wanted to talk, I guess. I won't hurt you." He added quietly. He walked over to the lake and settled down, looking around at the vast open space. "I never knew there was such a place around here."

Rukia watched him curiously from her spot. He seemed to have completely relaxed where he was, watching the lake.

"You can come down from the tree whenever you want, you know." He chuckled lightly, causing Rukia to flush. She stayed in her spot, and saw him smiling more. "By the way, my name is Kurosaki Ichigo."

Rukia fidgeted slightly, getting uncomfortable where she was sitting. They had stayed silent for nearly half an hour, yet he made no sign of moving. She sighed in defeat. "How long are you planning on staying?"

His head turned slightly, his brow raised. "As long as it takes to get your name."

Rukia couldn't help her lip curling upward. "And if I don't give it?"

He coughed and laid down on the spot, a cocky grin appearing on his face. "I'll assume you don't want me to leave then."

Rukia bit her lips and rolled her eyes. "Kuchiki…Rukia."

"Rukia?" he murmured to himself. He looked up towards her. "What kind of name is that?"

Rukia scoffed. "What do you mean, what kind of name is that?!"

He scratched his head, amused at her sudden willingness to talk. "I don't know. Its not one I have ever heard of, that is all."

She sighed. "Well, it isn't a common name, so no, its not a surprise you don't know of it. And what kind of name is Ichigo anyways?"

Ichigo scowled by did not say anything.

They remained silent for a bit longer, Ichigo now standing directly next to the tree she was hiding in. "Are you going to stay there?" he asked.

"Yes."

"For how long?"

"Until you leave."

Ichigo chuckled. "You really don't like me being here?" He waited, his heart beating a bit more when he was met with a silent response.

"Is it ok if I come see you tomorrow?" he asked quietly.

He sighed when she didn't say anything. "Alright, I'll come here again tomorrow. If you want to talk, just meet me here. If you aren't here, I-I won't bother you again."

Rukia watched him turn and leave slowly. She finally came down when she sensed his reitsu disappearing. She took one last look at where he had been a minute ago, completely sure that he would not come again tomorrow. And even if he did, she surely would not be there.

x.X.x

She sighed when she found herself sitting on the branch the next night, and every other night, waiting for him. 'No, it's not because you are here to see if he comes' she reminded herself. 'It's because this is the spot that you come every night and you are sure he won't come.'

But he came every night after their first meeting. He would come and sit by the lake, talking to her about anything that came into his head. At first, it irritated her that he did come, but soon she found herself listening intently to his words. He would tell her so many stories about not only his world, but about other worlds he had heard of from books he had read. It took nearly three meetings for her to finally respond to him, to which he was secretly glad.

It was the fifth meeting when she had finally descended down from the tree, and settled down next to him to talk. He would tell her of his life, and she would of hers. Rukia would show him a few simple spells, surprised that he never showed any fear of this. He seemed to be more interested then anything else. Soon she found herself waiting from evening until night for him. A feeling inside her began to stir with every smile he would give her, for ever tease he would annoy her with, for the way he was slowly making a place in her life.

She had even begun to go meet him at his town under the pretense that she was just a visitor for the festival that was continuing. Ichigo usually found the events dull, but it was so different with Rukia. She had never seen any such things, and it was fun for him to show her around, seeing her face light up at everything. It was also then that he realized his feelings for her were different from how he felt about other women. The way she smiled, the way her eyes twinkled when she laughed, the way she bit her lip when he knew she was up to mischief…everything made his heart beat faster.

x.X.x

Ichigo bolted down the stairs, stopping only at the entrance to bid his mother goodbye. He was slightly surprised to see Inoue's parents there, but he was in too much of a hurry. He greeted them quickly before stumbling out of his house, knowing Rukia was probably already waiting for him. He had not made it far when he heard his name. He turned to find Inoue standing by the door.

She fumbled with her fingers as she looked down nervously. "I know it is not proper for me to speak so openly to you about this, but I just felt that I should." She looked up to see her watching her impatiently. She bit her lip, and looked back down, her cheeks turning crimson. "Our families have been discussing the possibility of a proposal between you and me..."

"What?"

Inoue looked up to see Ichigo looking at her in surprise. He shook his head, trying to find the right words for what he had just heard. "Inoue, what are you talking about? Wha-"

I…I like you, Kurosaki-kun." She blurted out, and quickly bit her lip when he stared at her quietly, his mouth left hanging open. Her eyes filled with sadness, knowing the answer that she had always felt deep inside her heart. "I've always had," she whispered.

"Inoue…" he began, but sighed. "You know I've never thought of you…"

"As more then a friend," she finished. "I know. I just hoped that perhaps someday your heart would make a place for me. Unless…" she looked at him, her smile attempting to cover the sadness that filled her eyes. "There is someone who already has?"

Ichigo flushed and scratched his head, mumbling words under his breath.

"I see." She turned and looked back sadly. "It can't be helped, I suppose. I hope I will get to meet her soon."

Ichigo shifted uncomfortably. "Inoue, it's not that…"

She stepped away before he could finish. "It's alright, Kurosaki-kun. I need to get going. There are a lot of chores to attend to. I will see you later." She turned and without a second glance, walked away, nearly colliding with Tatsuki.

"Orihime, are you alright?" Tatsuki asked her friend with concern, noting the tears that were now flowing down her cheek. Inoue nodded, and ran, with Tatsuki chasing after her.

Ichigo followed their retreating form before heaving a big sigh. What was his father doing by bringing a proposal without his consent?! He felt guilty for hurting Inoue, but he just never saw her as someone whom he would marry one day. Now she had been hurt by him because of all this. Yet her words seemed to embed into his mind more then anything else.

'Unless…there is someone who already has?'

Ichigo's head turned slowly towards the wood, and wondered.

x.X.x

Rukia's head cocked to the side as she sensed his reitsu . Sure enough, she caught sight of him walking towards her with that arrogant smug smile of his that always angered her as well as stir something inside her that scared her to death.

"What are you doing here? I told you that you should stop coming here," she muttered as he settled down next to her, fingering the small piece of her pendant that he had taken. She attempted to swipe it from his hand, but as always, his reflexes were amazing. He quickly put it into his pocket and continued to smirk as he stared out into the distant lake.

"Why do you always come here?" he asked quietly as she crossed her arms in anger. Rukia looked at him from the corner of her eye and found him watching her intently. She quickly looked away and towards the sky and sighed as she closed her eye. "It is where my sister and I used to always come when we were little. Before she was murdered for being who she was..." she added bitterly as Ichigo frowned.

Rukia opened her eyes, but still did not meet his. "You shouldn't be here, you know. I allowed it the first few times because I felt after a while you would grow tired of this and leave yourself. But it just seems that you continue to come and it's getting to be tiresome..."

"Why is that?" he asked softly as she breathed deeply.

"You know why, Ichigo." she muttered, and Ichigo did not miss the sadness that was hidden behind her words. He waited, hoping she would open up more to him. She had been fine just yesterday. He had been coming to meet her for nearly two weeks now, and he felt that she had finally gotten used to seeing him. At least for him, it was this very moment that he yearned for everyday...to see her, to tease and annoy her...to just be with her...

He watched as she got up and walked towards her pouch that she had left lying near the tree. She began fumbling with the pouch as she muttered, "It wouldn't be the best of interest for you to be meeting some strange woman when you have obligations to another..."

Ichigo's eyes widened as realization struck him on what was going on. "Rukia, were you at the village today?"

He watched her still for a moment, and that was enough of an answer for him.

"Rukia...what you saw..."

"Was what should be happening, Ichigo..." she finished as she stood up, still not facing him. "We are from very different worlds. Ones that should never have met in the first place. I wanted to tell you tonight that this will be the last time we meet. Do not forget, that I am a witch. You would do well to follow your town and fear me rather then..."

She stopped when she felt his towering form behind her. She turned her head slightly to see him looking down at her with an amused expression.

She cursed inwardly. Why did he have to be so much taller?!

"I fear you?" he chuckled, causing the anger within her to boil past the breaking point. "A tiny midget such as yourself?"

Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and before he knew it, he was thrust hard against the tree by an invisible force, and trapped there as she pulled out a dagger from the pouch she had been looking for earlier. She walked over to him, an evil glint in her eyes as he watched her suspiciously.

She placed the dagger swiftly against his throat, and smirked when she saw him swallow with difficulty. "Yes, a midget like me, who will not hesitate for one minute to show you just why you should be fearing my kind."

There was silence as they both glared at one another, fighting for control over the situation.

"Now what should I turn you into..." she purred in his ear, sending shivers down his spine as her small form pressed against his chest. The blade was touching the base of his neck, a drop of his blood slowly trickling down his chest from the small cut.

Yet he didn't notice the pain as the blade pressed further into his coarse skin. He was too mesmerized by the two pools of shimmering lavender eyes in front of him. She noticed the way he looked at her, and it took every bit of self control she had not to succumb to his intense stare. Yet she could feel her defenses crumbling when she felt his hand slowly wrapping themselves around her, pulling her closer to him. His breath hitched as she moved her soft lips to where the wound was, her tongue flicking the drop of blood that had escaped.

"Maybe a toad?" she whispered with an amused grin, her lips now moving inches towards his. Her eyes slowly closed as his head descended down, his lips meeting hers with such tenderness that it left her completely vulnerable to his every whim. He pulled her to him, the knife falling uselessly on the ground as her fingers entangled themselves in his hair. She could feel his hands gently caress her side as his head tilted, wishing to deepen the already fervent kiss.

Her eyes opened only fractionally, but it was enough for her to gain some of her senses back.

'This is not right...'

As his lips slowly moved from her lips to her jawline, her hand descended to his chest as she muttered an incantation under her breath. She knew it had worked when Ichigo suddenly froze in his spot, his eyes widening in confusion as she pulled herself away from him.

She swallowed hard, gaining what little composure she could muster as she looked at him. "I'm sorry. This just can't go on. Return to your village, and don't you dare come after me again. If you do, I will not hesitate to use a far more painful spell on you. For now, be bound as such until I leave..."

She turned without another glance, knowing he was watching her in frustration as she ran away cowardly from him. She touched her swollen lips, still feeling the lingering kiss that they just shared, knowing it was wrong and yet dearly wanting to be in his arms again. She forced her feet to pull the rest of herself away from where she had left him, knowing the spell would soon be gone.

She had just hoped that it was the last time she would ever see him.

She was wrong.

x.X.x

Rukia sighed in irritation when she sensed him drawing near. It was the seventh night since she had told him that she would not see him, yet he was still persistent on seeing her. Why could he just not see that what he was doing was not only stupid, but dangerous?

She saw him in the distance, his bright orange hair contrasting heavily with the darkness that enveloped the woods. He walked slowly to the tree that he knew she was hiding in, and settled himself on the ground next to it. He remained silent, as he had done for the past three nights. He knew she would not answer him; she had made that very clear the first night he went looking for her. He had found her yet again with the piece of pendant he had taken from her. She cursed herself for not having turned him into a toad right then and there, as her friend Rangiku had suggested. Perhaps then all of this would not have happened and the fool would have taken her more seriously. Yet it seemed all of this was a game for him.

She felt another presence quite close and felt herself shift uncomfortably as she tried to discern who it was. It was definitely not a human, for she doubted anyone was as foolish as Kurosaki Ichigo to come this far. Her feet shifted swiftly when a black cat leaped onto the branch she was sitting at. Rukia let out a frustrated sigh and turned her attention back to the man occupying the space below her, ignoring the newcomer. The cat stretched slightly before lying on the branch, watching Rukia lazily.

'Quite persistent, isn't he? Why don't you just meet him once and tell him to stop coming?'

Rukia turned her attention to the cat, who was watching her carefully. She shook her head and sighed deeply.

'No use, Yourichi-san, if anything, it will keep encouraging him to come...'

She saw the cat smirk lightly and look down.

'It doesn't look like ignoring him is producing any other results either... Perhaps you should take Rangiku's advice...but turn him into a mouse.'

Rukia rolled her eyes as she saw the cat lick her lips. She turned her attention back to Ichigo, and a frown began to settle on her face when she realized he was clutching his side and breathing heavily as if he was in pain. She cursed inwardly when she realized he was swaying slightly back and forth, going into and out of consciousness.

Without a moment's pause, she was by his side as he lost whatever little strength he had and collapsed on her shoulder.

"Ichigo..." she gritted her teeth and tried to pull his heavy frame off of her before she lost her balance as well. She raised her brow when she saw the side he was clutching, and the blood that was beginning to flow freely from it, seeping through his thin shirt. The cat leaped down casually next to her as Rukia growled in protest. "Help me!!" she cried, as she tried her best to try and get the unconscious man up. The cat chuckled lightly, before shaking her head.

'You realize the hole you are digging yourself deeper into?'

Rukia screamed in frustration. Why did everyone think that she had a hand in this foolish human's stupidity? She cried out when she fell from the weight, determined that a toad or a mouse was too kind for this insufferable man. The weight finally began to lift and Rukia opened her eyes to see the woman next to her, pulling the man up with ease.

"It's about time, Yourichi-san!" she said angrily, to which the woman gave her a sly grin. With her help, Rukia was able to lift Ichigo up and move towards her cottage. Yourichi cocked her brow when she realized where they were going. "Shouldn't we be dumping him near his own village? Why are we going towards your place?"

Rukia sighed in frustration. "Because he is wounded. Knowing him, even if we were to dump him there, he would come right back the moment he was conscious."

Yourichi snickered as they arrived at the cottage. They quickly dumped him on the bed as Rukia began to prepare a potion for his healing. She could feel Yourichi's eyes on her, and tried to avoid them. It was already bad enough with everything going on, and even though she knew she could trust Yourichi to keep this secret from the elders, it was still a dangerous situation.

"Yourichi-san..." she began, but was cut off immediately.

"Just heal him, Rukia-san. I don't know what is happening, but you know the consequence of what you are doing. If anyone other then your friends and I ever come to know of this human knowing of your existence..."

Rukia swallowed and nodded her head. She turned to find Yourichi at the door, smiling. "Take care of him, and oh, make sure to turn him into a plump mouse," she grinned widely as Rukia grew sick at the thought.

When the door closed, she turned her attention to Ichigo, and took a deep breath. Even after being in his company for a while now, his presence stirred an emotion inside of her that she did not want to be feeling. While the potion brewed slowly in the distance, she grabbed a cloth with a basin of water and walked over to him. His face was furrowed, and she knew he was in immense pain. She moved his hand slightly to check the wound, and found that luckily it was not too deep. She put the cloth into the water, and began dabbing it on the open wound to clean up the blood. She could feel him move uncomfortably as she administered the potion to his flesh. After bandaging him, she sat beside him, trying to figure out what to do.

Why was he making this so difficult for her? Was not knowing who she was enough for him to let her be? She watched him sleeping peacefully, observing every feature of his face, which for the first time did not hold that scowl that he always seemed to have. She smiled gently as her fingers brushed lightly across his cheek. "Idiot…"

She looked up when she heard the light droplets of rain on the window pane and quickly ran to the window to close it. A storm was brewing and it was far too late now to return him in this state. She walked back and sat down next to him, watching him sleep as she occasionally dabbed a wet cloth on his forehead. Her heart beat rapidly when she heard her name whispered from his lips as he shifted uncomfortably. Rukia waited until he was fast asleep again before lowering her head to lightly touch his. She could sense the warmth of his skin against her cool forehead and for a moment, she stayed still, her hand on his chest, listening to his heartbeat…and not realizing his hand that was slowly crawling up to the small of her back before it was too late. She let out a yelp when she felt herself being pushed down and on top of him. "You fool!" Rukia yelled as Ichigo let out a grunt of pain when she landed on his wound. She quickly pulled herself up with difficulty, pushing his hand away. He coughed slightly as he gripped his side while Rukia placed her hands gently on the wounds and began healing what little she could. She kept her eyes anywhere but at him, who she knew was watching her. "What happened?" she muttered.

Ichigo coughed slightly and held his side for support. "I was hunting. Didn't pay much attention, and got mauled by the very thing I was hunting," he chuckled.

She shook her head. "Why is your lack of awareness not a big surprise?"

"Rukia…"

"Don't, Ichigo." She muttered. "I told you…and you just don't…"

"Che, when have I ever done anything you said?"

Rukia turned to him angrily. "Exactly. You never listen! I don't even understand why you are here when I told you not to follow me!"

He smiled lightly. "You still don't know why?" She felt his hand wrap around her arm as he pulled her gently to him until their lips were barely inches from one another. "I just don't want you to push me away anymore…" he whispered.

Rukia swallowed as she stared into his eyes, seeing all the pain he had been feeling from her rejection. "You know this is wrong, Ichigo," she whispered back, trying to pull herself away. "I am not a human, and…"

"And?" he challenged.

She scoffed lightly. "Did you already forget all of the stories you were told about our kind? What of them?"

Ichigo grinned. "Yes, well, it is hard to believe in stories such as those when they completely contradict everything about you…"

Rukia raised her brow as she challenged him by trying to pull herself away, but he would not allow it. "How so?" she mused.

Ichigo shrugged. "Well, for instances, witches are meant to be evil and cruel, and while, yes, you are those things to a certain degree…" he smirked at her glare, "you still have a heart that I intend to steal sooner or later, if not so already." Rukia could feel her cheeks flush as she tried to loosen his grip on her, but found herself being pulled closer. With one last tug, his lips were softly upon hers. She sighed when she felt his hands slide through her hair, caressing her gently as he deepened the kiss. It was at that point that Rukia knew that even if she wanted to, she would not be able to push him away. In truth, she didn't want to either and finally responded to the kiss she had secretly yearned for since their first time. With no more resistance from her, he easily pulled her beside him, his kiss slowly melting her last bit of resolve she had of keeping her distance from him. Yet the gentleness that he had shown was slowly being replaced with something far more. His hands began to descend from her cheek to explore the rest of her, causing Rukia to tremble under his touch. He moved away slightly, concern on his face when he felt the slight hesitation for what they were about to do. He sighed when she wouldn't meet his eyes, "Rukia, if you don't want this…"

She looked at him and smiled softly, shaking her head. "It's not that," she whispered.

"Are you sure?" he questioned, doubt still evident on his face.

She smirked and kissed him. "Positive."

He smiled and placed butterfly kisses on her face, resuming where he had left off. "Good," he teased with a sly grin.

He placed a soft kiss on her shoulder and wrapped his arms protectively around her. She shivered slightly as she felt his hand gently caress her cheek before pulling her in for another searing kiss, his loving whispers drowning out the storm that had taken hold outside.

X.X.x

He held her tightly to him, afraid loosening his hold on her would cause her to disappear. Rukia remained still, listening to his heartbeat as he watched the rain continue to patter against the windowsill. Both knew that the tranquil atmosphere would not last much longer.

Ichigo could feel her delicate fingers slowly tracing something against his bare skin and looked down at her. "Are you putting a curse on me?" he chuckled lightly and noticed her lips quirk up a bit. "And if I am?" she questioned with an amused tone.

He smirked, lightly tickling her side as she curled up. "Then I would have to remind you again what the benefits would be to keeping me as is," he joked as he bent down to kiss her softly.

She laughed and continued tracing. "It is a charm for your protection," she muttered. "Since you refuse to be cautious on your own."

Ichigo raised his brow as she finished and recited some words under her breath.

"Is it really that necessary?" he asked, brushing a strand of hair that had fallen on her face away. He noticed her frown slightly.

"I don't want to take any chances," she said softly, her hand now laying gently on his wound.

He sighed and pulled her closer to him, stroking her hair gently as they both remained silent. "I promise to be more careful," he whispered in her ear.

"And if you don't?"

He chuckled. "Then you can turn me into whatever you want." She looked at him and swatted him playfully.

"I'll just chain you up then."

Ichigo turned to her, an almost evil grin appearing on his face. "Rukia, if that is the punishment, I'm not too sure I would want to be too careful."

She rolled her eyes and swatted him again. "You are too much, you know that?"

"Mmhhmm," he grinned as nibbled on her bottom lip. "Now then, chained, is it?"

"Ichigo…" she muttered dangerously, causing him to start laughing as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Okay, seriously, I'll be careful, okay?"

She narrowed her eyes at him, as he looked at her innocently. "Okay," she sighed, before pulling him to her, forgetting all other worries and only concentrating on the time they had together at the moment.

X.X.x

Ichigo woke up the next morning to the sun's ray that filtered through the room. He still felt groggy and disoriented, moving uncomfortably while avoiding the aches from his wound. He shifted his hands around the bed, but found that it was empty and barren of Rukia's warmth. He opened his eyes slightly and turned, frowning when he realized that she really wasn't there. As he became more aware of his surrounding, he noticed he was not even in her cottage anymore. He slowly got up, and his eyes widened when he felt only a slight prickle on his side where his wound was once.

He turned and found that the bandages were no longer there, and that his wounds were now completely healed. "Rukia..." he whispered, as he slowly looked around, finally realizing he was in his own bed. He frowned, wondering how he had gotten here. His eyes shifted quickly to his desk, where there was a small envelope. He pulled himself out of bed and walked over there, opening the envelope. As he tried to take out the paper that was inside, a small object fell into his hands. His eyebrows furrowed as he took a look at it. It was the same type of pendant that Rukia had. Except that instead of a moon, there was the shape of a sun engraved into a black crystal. He took out the paper inside and found it was from Rukia.

Ichigo,

I know you are probably very confused at the moment over what is going on. At this moment it is dangerous for you to be with me, so I made sure you were back home safely. I need to leave for a while, so I am leaving this pendant for you. It will let you know when I have returned, and I will also be able to find you. Please take care…

Rukia

He held the letter in his hand, a frown on his face as he reread it several times. She had left? Where had she gone, and not told him? He felt anger and concern well up inside him at the thought that she could be in trouble. He crammed the letter quickly into his desk and dressed. He ran down the stairs, ignoring his sister's call as he made his way down the busy street. He was in the woods before he knew it, and walked the path he now knew by heart. But there was something different about where he ended up. The once tiny, beautiful cottage was no longer there. Instead, there was a decayed pile of rubble. Ichigo just stood there, hoping that it would change back sooner or later, and that Rukia would appear before him. But she didn't. Not the first day that he received the letter. Not the second day when he went to check. Not even a week later.

But he never stopped. He would go there everyday, hoping that she would be back. He cared not for the concern that his family and friends were showing for him when he would be gone nearly all day. He cared of nothing but seeing her again. Of feeling her in his arms again.

It was nearly Winter when he sensed her. Two months after she had disappeared in the first place. The pendant that he had been given began to glow, and it was all that he needed to bolt out of his house, running for the place he had kept a vigilant watch all this time. The closer he got, the more his pendant reacted. His heart beat grew rapidly when he saw the small cottage he had missed so much. But when he searched inside, there was no one there. He quickly turned, and ran for the one other place that only they knew of. He shivered slightly when he reached the lake, the cold air being stronger in the open space. But all of his care about such things disappeared the moment he saw her. She stood a few feet away, her body turned away from him as she stared into the distance. She turned lightly when she heard him approach, and he noticed she looked ill. He quickly took her into his arms, holding her tightly as her own hands wound around his side.

"I missed you," she murmured gently.

Ichigo choked back a laugh, "Don't even get me started on that…" He heard her laugh quietly and pulled her away just enough to look at her. His face turned serious as he noticed her unrest face. She had grown weaker and her skin was devoid of the vibrant creamy color and light pink blush that he loved so much. But even then, she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. "Where did you go?" he asked quietly.

She bit her lip and motioned towards her cottage. "It's cold here. I'll explain there."

He nodded, taking her hand gently into his as he led her back. She smiled as he pulled her into a kiss. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?" she teased and he grinned.

Rukia sat down on the bed and he sat next to her. She gently put her hands into his, and rested her forehead against him. "There were problems occurring within the council. Rangiku-san came to the cottage very early in the morning after the night when you were with me, and said that someone was coming. We just barely got you away from there before one of the elders set foot into my house. But…the way he was looking at me was as if he knew something was going on. I couldn't let him know. I left for a few months because I knew they were keeping an eye on me. Knowing you, even if I did warn you, you would have still come to see me. I-I couldn't risk it. But I had to now. I needed to tell you something."

Ichigo rested his chin on her head, holding her closely. "What is it?"

Rukia gulped, her form slightly trembling in his arms. "What happened between us that night…I…"

"What is it, Rukia?" he asked quietly as he pulled away slightly, and cupped his hands on her face.

She opened her mouth hesitantly before looking away, her cheeks turning red. She knew he was waiting for her response, but she couldn't even figure out a way to say it without turning more red, if that was possible. His firm voice brought her attention back to him. She sighed, "I-I'm pregnant…"

There was a long silence as Ichigo gawked at her, slowly digesting the words she had just said. She stared at him in fear, confusion, and impatience. He knew that she was scared of his response and he took a moment to allow it to completely sink in as he sought the right words. He knew by experience that his words always came out wrong, causing him to get pummeled by her several times. His hand slowly went to her stomach, and felt her breath still at his touch. A smile finally began to appear on his face as he looked at her. "I'm going to be a father?"

She blinked and nodded, relief washing over her when she saw his reaction. He took a hold of her again, pressing her firmly to his chest as he kissed her on the forehead. "I'm going to protect you…both of you. You are coming with me or I am staying here. I'm not going to leave you."

Rukia looked at him, her eyes widening. "Wha-?"

Ichigo placed his hand over her mouth and raised his brow. "No ifs or ands. You will stay with me, even if I have to tie you up and take you with me."

She bit her lip hesitantly. "But, Ichigo…your family. Your people. They won't accept me."

Ichigo shook his head and shrugged. "That is their problem. My family will love you no matter what. They don't need to know anything more then the fact that I love you."

He grinned as her cheeks turned a scarlet red and kissed her gently. "All I need to know is that you would be happy with such a life."

She stared into his intense amber eyes, before smiling softly and nodded in consent.

His smiled widened as he held her protectively. "I'll talk to my family first, and then I will introduce you to them. Okay?"

x.X.x

The room was silent. Ichigo sighed, knowing his parent's reaction would be such. After he had told them about Rukia, they had been at a complete loss of words. More so for the fact that this was the first time they had ever heard of her.

Yet it was his father that finally spoke. "And you are certain that this is what you want, Ichigo?"

When he was met with a nod, Isshin sighed. "Very well then, bring her so we can meet her. We should get the preparations ready as soon as possible."

Ichigo nodded, thankful that his father was willing to accept her. As he got up, he felt his mother's hand on his arm and turned to her. She had a small smile on her face as she pulled out a small velvet handkerchief. Inside, was a beautiful ring that was a simple gold band with a diamond in the center. She placed the ring in his hand and looked up at him. "This ring has been passed down several generations amongst the Kurosaki women. Give this to her when you bring her here."

His mother gently placed her arms around her son, promising him that everything would be alright.

He left the house and began heading for the woods when he heard his name being called. He turned to find Tatsuki standing there. Her face was flushed in anger as she walked over to him. "What do you think you are doing?" she yelled, as Ichigo looked at her in confusion.

"What are you yelling about, Tatsuki?" he grumbled.

She grabbed the collar of his shirt and glared at him. "What I'm talking about is that you rejected Inoue! And now I overhear that you are getting married?! To her?!"

Ichigo narrowed his eyes before yanking his shirt away from her.

Tatsuki shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe you, Ichigo! You would pick a witch over-" She bit her lip, but it was too late. Ichigo was staring at her in disbelief.

"How…how did you…"

"I-I followed you once when you went to meet her, okay?!" she answered irritably. "I know what she is, Ichigo. Don't bring her here. She is going to cause more trouble then you can imagine."

Ichigo snorted and turned. "I'm not in the mood to argue with you, Tatsuki. If you are my friend, understand what she means to me. She is going to be my wife, whether you agree with it or not. The rest I leave to you."

He walked away, ignoring her calls as he entered the woods. Anger was boiling inside him as he walked through the path, wondering why people could just not be happy with what he wanted. He felt guilty that he had hurt some people with his decision, but Rukia was one person he was not willing to compromise things for. He didn't know what it was about her, but the effect she had on his life in just the brief time she had been with him was enough for him to know that she meant everything to him.

Rukia looked out the window again to see if he had returned. She fidgeted uncomfortably in her spot, wondering why it was taking him so long to speak to his family. Had they agreed to accept her?

The thought of what would happen if they hadn't caused her to worry more. She didn't know what she or Ichigo would do if that were to happen. She didn't want to be the reason Ichigo would have to choose between her and his family.

Her thoughts then went to what her own family and friends would say when they learned of her decision. She knew that once she walked out of the door with Ichigo, she would never be welcomed in her own world again and her powers would leave her. But she also knew that he was a man of his word, and that he loved her as much as she loved him.

She quickly looked up when she heard a soft knock on the door. She opened it and her heart beat rapidly at seeing him standing before her, a small smile on his face as he took her in his arms, kissing her gently. She felt overwhelmed when he told her that his parents had agreed, and gave her the ring. He took her hand into his as they began to walk towards his home.

It was midway that Ichigo felt a small tug on his arm and turned to find Rukia had stopped, looking downcast. He looked at her questioningly as she finally looked him in the eye.

"Ichigo, if I wish to choose, I could pick to leave my old existence and start new. Though to do this, I want to make sure that this is something you really want. I want to make certain that this isn't out of obligation."

Ichigo chuckled and brought her close to him, his forehead resting gently on hers as she looked at him curiously. "You are too noisy, you know that? I really want this. I wouldn't have come this far if I didn't." he added, kissing her deeply, in hopes that she would understand with that on how much she meant to him. It seemed to, since she did not question him further on the matter.

They arrived at their house by evening. The lights inside were dimly lit so Ichigo knew his family was waiting. He squeezed her hand reassuringly before leading her inside.

"We're home," he called, walking into the large room to the side. His family was sitting down, and Ichigo frowned when he noticed that they all looked tensed, especially his mother when she caught sight of Rukia. "Mother, what is wrong?" he asked.

"Oh nothing is wrong, Kurosaki-san." A cold voice from behind caused them both to turn and find a man standing near the kitchen, a cruel smile crossing him lips. He walked over to the two of them, and Ichigo instinctively stood in front of Rukia. She held onto his shirt tightly and he could sense she was trembling slightly.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

The man grinned and bowed slightly. "My name is Ichimaru Gin. We were informed earlier that there was a witch in this house. We are just here to arrest her." He said, his cold eyes turning to Rukia as she backed away from his gaze. Ichigo took her hand protectively.

"You will not touch her." He said quietly.

Ichimaru sighed and scratched his head. "It can't be helped, Kurosaki-san, as I already have told your parents."

His smile suddenly faded, and he stared intently at the two. "If you do not move aside, Kurosaki-san, I will just have to arrest you as well."

When Ichigo did not move, Ichimaru made a motion to the men behind him, who began walking towards them.

"Ichigo?" Her trembling voice caused his heart to beat rapidly. She was in danger now because of him, and there was nothing he could do as he turned to find the door was blocked by Ichimaru's men. The first man walked up and Ichigo quickly punched him, causing the other man to go after him as well.

Rukia screamed his name and when he looked at her, a man who had been hidden in the corner had appeared and grabbed her wrist. She was struggling to get out of his grasp when Ichigo ran to her. "Don't touch her," he yelled, ignoring his parents cry to stop. Ichigo was pulled off by several men as Rukia began to be dragged from the house, screaming his name.

"No!" He yelled, trying to dislodge the men who had him trapped. It was then that he heard several voices outside, and the sound of a man falling. Ichimaru seemed shocked as he walked over to the door to look at what was causing the commotion. Ichigo too was dragged outside and found the men that had taken Rukia on the ground. His eyes widened when he found Urahara standing there, his cane by his side as he surveyed the unconscious men before him. Rukia was standing behind him, her face white from fear.

"Rukia…" he whispered as he tried to get to her, but was held back by Ichimaru's men.

"Who are you?" Ichimaru demanded, his eyes narrowed at Urahara.

Urahara bowed lightly, smiling. "Urahara Kisuke, shopkeeper of a poor book store just beyond this pathway."

Rukia looked up and saw Ichigo struggling, and turned to Urahara, who nodded to her. She turned her attention back to the men who were holding Ichigo, and raised her hand. She muttered something under her breath, and Ichigo felt their grip on him loosen as they froze exactly the way he had once. He quickly ran down the stairs to her, taking her into his arm as he turned to Urahara.

"There is no time to explain," Urahara stated simply, "We need to get you both out of here. I told you that this would bring misfortune to the town, Kurosaki-san."

Ichigo swallowed and nodded, holding onto Rukia for dear life as they made their way towards the woods. The streets were thankfully empty, yet they could still hear the footsteps behind them as they ran further from the town. Once they had gotten to the edge of the woods, they stopped to see that Ichimaru's men were not too far behind.

Ichigo turned to see her watching him. Her eyes were wide with fear, and he could tell that she was too tired now to run. He had to make sure she was safe.

"Urahara-san," he said quietly, "Please get her to safety. I'll hold them off."

"Ichigo," she began, taking a hold of his jacket, but he pulled away.

"Please, Rukia, you need to get out of here. You are not well enough to be running. Just…get her out of here, Urahara-san."

She felt herself being tugged by Urahara and turned to Ichigo with a look of horror. "You are not leaving me," she yelled.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

She was about to protest again when a strange glow around her caused her eyes to close and fall into a deep slumber. Ichigo looked to see Urahara shaking his head as he placed his own wand into his pocket.

"Urahara-san…you?!"

Urahara shrugged and quickly picked up Rukia. "We will be waiting for you," he muttered and Ichigo nodded, taking one last look at Rukia before turning to the men that were very close.

He tried to stop the few that attempted to pass him, but was stopped immediately when he felt something hard and solid hit him on the back of his head. He felt himself falling to the ground, everything becoming a blur. He looked up with difficulty, as the face of Ichimaru appeared. "Tsk tsk," the man said, his cold eyes gazing intently at Ichigo, and a small smile appearing on his face. "Look what you have done, Kurosaki-san."

x.X.x

"Kurosaki Ichigo, do you know of the crime to which you are being accused of."

Many watched as the man continued to stare at the table in front of him, until the sound of thunder that filled the ashen sky turned his attention to the window. The light patter of rain could be heard on the roof, as the impending storm made its presence.

Yamamato raised his brow and cleared his throat, earning no attention from the man.

"Kurosaki Ichigo, you have been accused of treason by aiding a witch to escape from our custody. Do you realize the danger you have put us all in by your actions?"

When he knew that he would still receive no response, he pressed further. "However, your family has petitioned against your crime by stating that you were forced into helping her by some sort of witchcraft trickery on her part. If so, you had no control over your actions. If so, you will be excused of this crime. All you must do is state the truth yourself."

"Kuchiki...Rukia..."

The heads of the courtroom turned from the magistrate to Ichigo, who finally turned his head to face the confused old man.

"What...what did you say?"

Ichigo stared at Yamamato with a vacant stare, and turned his eyes once more on the small window to the right of the courtroom.

"The woman who you speak of as a 'witch', her name is Kuchiki Rukia." His eyes turned coldly to his family before returning to Yamamato. "And as for your question, my family wishes to excuse my actions, but I have done nothing that I regret. Yes, I aided in her escape. No, I was not forced into it. I helped her on my own free will, and am willing to live with the consequences, knowing that at least she is safe from you all."

There were whispers that filled the room, some in fear, and others in anger. Yamamato stayed silent, watching Ichigo carefully. "May I ask why you did all this?"

Ichigo took a deep breath. "Because...I love her."

The old man shook his head and sighed deeply. "Then you leave me no choice. Kurosaki Ichigo, for your crime, I sentence you to be hanged tomorrow morning."

X.X.x

Her head was lowered, her eyes refusing to meet her brother's, who was standing in the distance.

"Kuchiki, Rukia, you realize why you are here?" The cold voice caused her to shiver slightly as she raised her head to look at the elders. She nodded, unable to find words.

"You are here before the council since you were found in the company of a human. You know very well that such an act is against our law."

She nodded again.

The man cleared his voice as he continued. "It has been reported that it was just not one human now that knows of your existence. You have put all of our lives in jeopardy, and something like that is punishable by death."

Silence filled the room as Rukia continued to stare at the ground, trembling.

There was a slight whisper, and another council member began speaking. "However, with recent events going as they are, we feel that a punishment of exile can be suffice."

Rukia looked up at him, surprised. "But…" she began, but was stopped immediately when the man held up his hand.

"The man that you were found in company with has met his own punishment of execution."

Rukia froze, her eyes wide and her mouth opened, unable to speak. Her trembling grew, and she fought not to allow the sick knot in her stomach take over.

"Tomorrow he will be hanged, therefore, our whereabouts will die with him. Also, because you are a Kuchiki, there are certain rules that we must follow for these matters. We will give you a choice now, Kuchiki Rukia. You can denounce your relationship with this human, and we shall allow this matter to go. If you refuse to, your punishment will be exile. Think very hard about this. Once you leave from here, you are no longer welcomed back. Also, the humans now know who you are, and you can not find refugee with them."

Rukia looked up to the council, her eyes stinging with the tears she did not wish to shed. "I have done nothing I regret. I will not forget him."

The council sighed in disapproval, before nodding. "Very well then, Kuchiki Rukia. You are to be gone tomorrow morning. Your powers will be stripped from you then."

X.X.x

She turned her head fractionally as the door opened and a young man walked through, his brow furrowed in disapproval. She turned back towards the window with her arms crossed, listening to the storm that had just started outside. She could sense him standing there, waiting for her to turn her attention to him. After knowing he would not relent, she heaved a sigh and turned.

"What is it, Renji?"

The man shook his head, walking towards her. "I just wanted to know if you are out of your mind, Rukia. Why are you doing all this? And for a human, no less?"

Renji cringed at the sight of so much sadness in his friend's eyes as she stared at the floor vacantly. "He is just not any human, Renji..." she answered quietly. There was a moment's pause before Renji sighed deeply.

"Belongs to him then?" he asked quietly as Rukia looked up at him, surprised to see Renji staring at her stomach. Her cheeks flushed a bright shade of red and turned away from him.

"I see..." The pain in his voice could not be hidden. Rukia knew she was hurting him, but it was too late to change anything now.

"You know his execution is tomorrow..."

She nodded, unable to speak as she swallowed a painful lump in her throat.

"And yet you still will not denounce your relationship with him..."

She shook her head, her hand lightly touching her stomach.

"Knowing that you will never be accepted again by either side, Rukia? Nor will..."

"Enough, Renji..." Her voice was calm and quiet, yet the tone made it clear that she did not wish to hear anymore, and that the conversation had ended. "I have made my choice, and I will not go back on it. I do not regret a moment of what transpired between him and I. Please...leave me in peace."

She could hear his heavy breathing as he tried to calm his anger and frustration, and finally heard him turn and leave the cottage. It was only then that the first tear shed from her, and from then she could not stop her sobs as she fell to the floor just as her world became to crumble.

x.X.x

The crisp morning air sent a shiver down Rukia's spine and she clutched the cloak tighter around herself. Her tiny feet curled slightly from the freezing ground as she walked slowly away from the world she had known all of her life. She had looked back just once, and could have sworn she had seen her friends watching her from afar. But none of that mattered anymore. She had made her decision, and there was no going back.

She choked down a sob that was desperate to come out, refusing to become weak at a moment where she needed all of her strength. Yet her tears, which had begun to sting her eyes, could not be kept at bay. They slid down her worn cheeks as she walked through the woods, wondering what she would do. The news of Ichigo's execution reached her ear early morning and had caused any hope she had of a future to become a fleeting dream. Had it not been for the treasure he had left behind for her, she probably would have joined him. Her delicate hands gently touched her growing womb, and she sighed as her resolve to keep going was renewed.

So much was she distracted by her thoughts that she didn't realize just where her little feet took her, until she gasped slightly from the cold wet water beneath her. She looked down, and found herself at the edge of the small lake. The lake where she and Ichigo would always meet.

She breathed heavily, watching as her breath mingled with the cold air. It was so cold. Was this something humans always felt?

She rubbed her shoulders in a desperate attempt to keep warm. It was just...so cold.

She didn't know when she collapsed from all of the weight on her shoulders. She didn't know when her sobs couldn't be contained anymore. All she knew was that she was alone.

Time just seemed to pass in a haze. Her body weakened too much to stay awake, and she rested her head against the small oak tree. Before her eyes, everything began to fade into darkness.

A sudden warmth through her body woke her from her daze. Her eyes furrowed slightly at a sudden beating against her chest. She looked down, her eyes widening fractionally as the small shard...Ichigo's pendant...began to glow dimly. Her breathing became heavy as she whipped her head up, clutching onto the small piece of jewel as the light within it began to illuminate more. She didn't want to believe...

She held her breath as she heard the sound of the crunching of leaves in the distance. She tried to get up, but her legs were too weak. All she could do was watch.

She choked back a sob, when a figure appeared before her. Clad in a warm, black cloak stood the young man who she thought she would never see again. His eyes turned to hers, a small smile appearing on his face as he began walking towards her.

It felt too much like a dream. The sun's ray that filtered through the leaves and branches seemed to brighten his already bright orange hair, and his skin seemed to become illuminated by the glow. Rukia prayed this was just not a dream.

But it wasn't a dream. His strong arms wrapped themselves around her, and pulled her towards his tall frame. She didn't even need anything else to know it was him. She had already become one with the beating of his heart, the tenderness to which only he ever held her with. The way he whispered her name. It was him.

She quickly wrapped her arms around him, and felt him gently lift her. He sat down beside her, and placed her on his lap, covering her with his cloak. Her eyes turned to his, a weak smile appearing on her face as she pulled her arms out and touched his cheeks. She knew her hands were ice cold, but Ichigo did not say a word. He just stared at her, a smile on his face as well as he rubbed her arms gently to get her to feel warm again. She leaned forward, her forehead resting gently against his. She wanted to say something, but her throat had become too sore. They just stayed that way for a moment, reveling in each other's arms before Rukia looked at him again. "How?" she asked hoarsely.

Ichigo's grin grew wider as his warm lips lightly touched hers. "You didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?" he chuckled. Rukia laughed lightly, clutching onto him tightly.

He sighed, and looked out at the lake. "Urahara...and...Renji, got me out of there." he muttered, earning a startled look from Rukia.

"Renji?!"

He was about to answer, when a sudden movement in the distance behind Ichigo caught her eye. Her eyes widened when she noticed Renji standing behind a tree, trying to conceal himself as he watched them. When his eyes met hers, he smiled softly before turning away and forever walking away from her.

Her heart ached at knowing she had hurt someone who had truly loved her. She only wished he would find the same happiness that she had someday.

Her attention turned back to Ichigo, who was watching her curiously. She smiled before leaning forward and lightly bumping her forehead against his. He made a face at her, which caused her to laugh and mess his already unruly mop of hair. She placed her head against his chest, as the two sat in peace at the spot where they had fallen in love in the first place.

"I thought I lost you," she whispered. She felt his grip tighten around her.

"I'm sorry I caused you to worry," he answered, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "I promised you that I would take care of you, and I always will. I love you, Rukia."

Rukia smiled. "I love you too, Ichigo."

He gently brushed his lips against hers and held her as close to him as possible. The two turned to look at the lake, knowing that there were to be many more obstacles ahead for them. But for now, just being in each other's arms was enough.